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Playing Good Games With Strangers vs Bad Ones With Friends

A look at the possible future of online gaming where MMORPG and social gaming have found common ground in improving cooperation between players.

As of October, Zynga’s market valuation is higher than that of Electronic Arts. Intellectual property aside, the market valuation of Zynga stands at $5.5 billion compared to EA capitalization of $5.2 billion. Currently the world’s largest interactive entertainment software company and one of the biggest third-party publisher, EA is arguably the biggest video game making company in the world, but is on the verge of losing that title to Zynga and its empire of cow clicking social gaming.

According to a recent Techcrunch article, 40% of facebook users, or roughly 200 million users play social games on the platform. My own estimate from a recent post on game addiction is that roughly 200 million americans play or live in household with access to video gaming consoles like the xbox 360, PS3, Wii, etc.

However, with the popularization of video gaming moving to smartphones and social networks, and with recents ESA findings showing that adult women represent the segment of gamers with the biggest growth, everything seems to indicate that social gaming will, if it hasn’t already, replace software gaming as the dominant form of video gaming.

World of Warcraft, the most popular MMORPG has about 12 million monthly subscribers and until recently was the most popular online video game. This figure has now been dwarfed by FarmVille’s 80 million daily active users.

As mentioned in a previous article, FarmVille, like most social/network games, relies on the social norm of reciprocity between friends as its main game mechanic. But is this use of relationships between players coercion or is it the foundation of the future and improved gameplay?

Social gaming has the potential to reintroduce cooperation between players in video gaming. Let’s image a ‘social MMORPG’ where gathering simultaneously 40 players online to kill a dungeon boss has been replaced by gathering of 40 friends to build a virtual city. Let’s suppose we were to replace event-based cooperation with permanent cooperation in a successful MMO franchise like WoW, what would that game look like?

For one, it would introduce a new segment of players currently busy harvesting soybeans to MMORPG. Besides chinese gold Farmers, not too many WoW players are motivated by the possibilities of generating money, creating businesses, or providing services to the more prominent battle-oriented players.

But looking at the successes of social games like FarmVille, it seems inevitable that MMORPGs will eventually invite and not prohibit such practices, not only to reach out to the growing segment social gamers, but to create a greater diversity of gameplay. It would also benefit more experienced MMO players who have grown bored of dungeon quests and who wouldn’t mind combining battling demons with setting up shops or becoming mercenaries and earning money, virtual or real.

It could also lead to user-sustained villages and communities, to the foundation of more complex virtual nations, kingdoms and economies maintained and regulated by this new segment of players.

A greater complexity and user agency would lead to better virtual worlds that benefit all players. Full out wars, village raids, theft, fluctuation of commerces and economical activities, etc, the establishment of more permanent cooperations between players should lead to a richer gameplay.

This permanent-based cooperation applied to WoW can also easily be applied other games, like GTA: where players on top of completing missions could design clothes, build or sell real estate, modify cars, host radio shows, sell music albums, remixes, etc.

Would this diversification get in the way of the main game mechanic? I doubt it. In this dialectic between good MMORPG and cow clicking with friends, the obvious future seems to be the establishment of community-building co-ops between players inside MMORPGs.

[Crossposted from GameJudgement]

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